Fetzer, Bill

Primary Position: Pinch hitter
Birthplace: Concord

First, Middle Names:  William McKinnon
Date of Birth:  June 24, 1884  Date and Place of Death: May 3, 1959, Butner, NC
Burial: Oakwood Cemetery, Concord, NC

High School: Concord High School, Concord, NC
College: Davidson College, Davidson, NC

Bats: L Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 180
Debut Year: 1906        Final Year: 1906          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Athletics, 1906

Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1          1            0          0          0          0          .000     .000     .000     0.0

In college and down in the minors, Bill Fetzer was known for prodigious drives that bounced off church steeples. Though he stood only five-foot-ten inches and weighed no more than 180 pounds, he was called Big Bill because of his big blasts. It figures, then, that a slugger like that would appear in one major-league game as a pinch hitter and strike out.

He had much more success after baseball as a winning football and baseball coach at three, major North Carolina colleges.

The third of five children, William McKinnon Fetzer was born in 1884 in Concord, North Carolina. His mother, Zeta, was a doctor’s daughter. His father, Pendleton Bernard, or “P.B.,” owned a drugstore and popular general store in town.

The youngster took up baseball at an early age, as this item in an 1895 edition of his hometown newspaper would seem to attest. “While playing ball Tuesday evening in the yard of his home on Fetzer Avenue, Master Willie Fetzer let a ball pass through his hands, striking him on the upper lip, which cut a hole through it,” the paper reported. “His teeth were not loosened, however. The hurt was quite painful to the little fellow.”[I]

Fetzer continued his ball playing at the local high school and, starting in 1901, at nearby Davidson College, where he played second base and was an all-conference halfback on the football team.

He started his professional career four years later just up the road in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Class D Hornets and was considered one of the best players in the Virginia-Carolina League.

After the season, Fetzer got a job at Fishburne Military School, an all-boys boarding school in Waynesboro, Virginia. He would teach there in the offseasons for several years and eventually became the school’s athletics director.

He moved up a notch in 1906 to the Class C Red Sox in Danville, Virginia. He was hitting .262 and led the Virginia League in home runs with five when the Philadelphia Athletics bought his contract in September. Manager Connie Mack sent Fetzer in to pinch hit for Socks Siebold on Sept. 4 in a game that the Athletics would win 10-3. Fetzer struck out in his only major-league at bat.

He was back in Danville the following season and continued to hit long homers. One left fans and his teammates in awe. “The drive was more than 700 feet from the home plate when it hit a church steeple and thus stopped in its flight, which no doubt would have gone over 1,1,00 feet,” a newspaper reported. “The grandstand yelled for fully five minutes, playing had to be stopped by the umpire until the fans and the players on both teams regained their equilibrium.”[II]

Fetzer played or managed in the minor leagues until 1915 when he replaced his brother, Robert, as Davidson’s head football coach. He also managed the baseball team and was the school’s athletics director. Over five seasons, Fetzer’s football team compiled a 17-11 record, with three ties. Davidson adopted a nickname in 1917 that reflected the ferocity of Fetzer’s football squad. The school’s teams had been informally called the “preachers.” The football team fought with such tenacity against Georgia Tech that year that some Georgia newspapers reported that the undermanned opponents played like “wildcats.”

After two years at what’s now N.C. State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he was the head football coach for two seasons and baseball skipper for one, Fetzer moved the short distance to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1921 to coach football and baseball at the University of North Carolina. He was joined by his brother, Bob, on the football team — they called themselves associate head coaches. Bob handled the paperwork and all administrative duties while Bill was the on-field coach.[1]

The brothers won 30 football games over the next five seasons and tied for first in the Southern Conference in 1922 with a team that went 19-1. It lost only to Yale University after the referees in the Yale Bowl recalled three UNC touchdowns. In protest, the Fetzers returned to Yale the following season with a team of scrubs and lost 53-0. An opposing team can’t win there anyway, Bill told the newspapers.

His UNC baseball teams were also successful. They won 70 games, while losing 37.

Fetzer and his wife, Dorothy, continued to live in Chapel Hill after his coaching days. They had a son there. Fetzer died of a heart attack in 1959.

[1] Robert Allison Fetzer was known affectionately as “Coach Bob” to thousands of UNC students, alumni and Chapel Hill residents. He first coached track and was named athletics director when the position was created in 1923. He left in 1952 to become the executive director of the John Motley Morehead Foundation. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1965. He died three years later.

[I] A Hole Through His Lip.” Daily Standard (Concord, NC), April 3, 1895.
[II] Willy M. Fetzer Breaks Ball Record.” Concord (NC) Times, July 19, 1907.